On the surface, perhaps one may not imagine hip-hop having a considerable impact in a culture like Japan. However, since the 80s when the genre transcended cultural boundaries, Japanese hip-hop has been a major commercial and artistic force in the country’s musical landscape. DAOKO, an 18-year old female rapper from Tokyo is emblematic of the new identity changes hip-hop has acquired and undergone in its history.

What is instantly noticeable is the sweet and delicate voice of DAOKO, something that a conventional hip-hop track would perhaps not come to terms with. ‘Fog’, from her debut album in 2012 provided audiences an introduction to a unique, fresh take on a genre that was traditionally associated with images of aggression or conflict. While the foot tapping drumbeat, celestial synth patterns and the hazy tone of DAOKO’s vocals stirred up a catchy and cute pop atmosphere, one cannot help but feel a subtle sense of mystery from the track. To sum it up in a convenient phrase, it is delicately disturbing.

DAOKO has often featured alongside other artists in similar musical fields, including with ESNO in the song 夕暮れパラレリズム ‘Yugure Parallelism’ (‘Evening Parallelism’). Reminiscent of the hip-hop/nu-jazz vibe of Nujabes, this track has many of the qualities of a chilled, feel-good tune: a seductive hip-hop beat, sparkling jazz piano ornamentations, warm synth patterns and above all, DAOKO’s velvet voice whispering at the listener’s ears.

Glimpses of futurism and feelings of nostalgia socialise with each other in 水星 ‘Suisei’ (‘Mercury’). The vocoder-filtered voice of DAOKO fits nicely with a dreamy electro-pop production that reverberates with retro-tinged synth timbres. The familiarity that one may feel through the clear pentatonic inflections makes the track instantly accessible and recognisable for the mainstream audience.

The latest fresh and original artist to lay a statement on the Japanese music scene, DAOKO epitomises the idea that hip-hop in today’s generation has changed from its essentialised African-American image to an abstract hub of new and exciting mutations.

Other Listening:

  • かけてあげる ‘Kaketeageru’ (‘Cast A Spell’)
  • Ututu
  • Mizutamari
  • さみしいかみさま ‘Samishii Kamisama’ (‘Lonely God’)

© Isaku Takahashi